Sunday, August 9, 2015

XXXII. Ayer en El Panteón de Ajijic

Yesterday in the Public Cemetery of Ajijic

A few days ago we got the happy news that our daughters have made their reservations to visit us this fall. They will be staying with us over Días de los Muertos—November 1 and 2. I'm glad they're coming then, so I can share this amazing occasion with them. For me these days are a special time because my fascination with their art, meaning and celebration became my entry to Mexican culture. 

Many of the gravesites were partially
enclosed, like this one...
It’s been almost thirty years since I first saw the “Catrina” images of skeletons dressed in the same manner as the living, engaged in all kinds of mundane and riotous acts. They mocked the stodgy and uptight attitude towards death that is commonly held by the Western religions in which most of us were raised.

...and this one, with riotous colors, and recent balloons added
to mark the deceased's recent birthday, and...
This cavalier attitude was anathema to the Catholicism that found it in the ancient traditions of the native Aztec and Meso-American people who were conquered in the name of the Cross. The Church here in Mexico tried for centuries to wipe out this celebration which entwined life and death. Finally, the friars gave up and co-opted the old customs, moving their observance from summer to fall, to coincide with All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day.

this one, much more plain.
With these thoughts in mind, and mindful of our upcoming visitors, I paid a visit yesterday to the panteón, or public cemetery, here in Ajijic. It’s about a mile walk down Ocampo from our house, just after you pass Calle Rio Bravo, as houses become more sparse and the road turns from cobbles to mostly packed dirt.

The first impression I had here, even more so than in Yelapa’s cemetery, was how well tended it was, and how copious and fresh—if you can call them that—the plastic flowers seemed. There were splashes of color everywhere, and heartfelt expressions of love and remembrance that would have seemed mawkishly sentimental up north.

All of the grave markers faced south with the nearby hills
behind them, except for one that was in the far corner, facing
north. Was this exception for some reason?

This is one of the saddest remembrances I saw of a young man who died just four days after his 18th birthday. In the small lawn in front of the dalmatian statues are four soccer balls. The plaque ends with the words, "God has taken your soul, but your memory will live in our hearts forever. We will never forget you."
I found it a place of sadness and joy, kitsch and beauty, both crowded and well-kept. And peaceful. As I was leaving, heading out to the open gate and highway, with cars whizzing by, a man about my age passed before me and silently raised his hand in greeting.

Walking home along the carretera, I made my way back to Ocampos and Constitución, to our casa. It was siesta time and hot. The few señoras y señoritas on the street were carrying paraguas to protect themselves from el sol.
The cemetery is fairly large, about 100 meters square, and there are numerous views and feelings one gets wandering through.

The gaudy orange tombstone marks the final resting place of a 73-year-old man with an Anglo name, remembered by his
wife and children. The plastic flowers are recent additions to the remembrance.

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